Video game trends in the early to mid 90’s were weird as shit. On one hand you had companies constantly trying to one up Mortal Kombat and Doom in the onscreen blood and guts department and on the other you had an endless parade of smart assed anthropomorphic animals trying to cash in on Sonic the Hedgehog’s success. At the dawn of the 32 bit era a true successor emerged, leaving all of the Awesome Possums, Bubsys and Aero the Acro-Bats in his dust, and succeeding as an IP mostly in the same way Sonic initially did (this was waaaaay before chili dogs and “gotta go fast”), by, save for some still hilarious commercials involving an awkward mascot suit, shutting the fuck up and letting his engrossing adventuring do the talking. His name was Crash Bandicoot.
Crash dropped the ‘tude filled Poochie-fied “Kung Fu Hippie from Gangster City” bullshit that felled so many SNES and Genesis era also rans and got his point across with good old fashioned Warner Bros/Hanna Barbera style classic cartoon character charm. Add to that the jungle bound setting and rock hard but fair difficulty of his exploits called to mind a spiritual successor to Rare’s instant classic SNES Donkey Kong Country series and you had a game that was hard to argue with, and that’s before you even take into consideration that the then innovative 2.5D graphics and gameplay engine was a fantastic showcase for Sony’s brand new and yet untested initial PlayStation hardware.
Sony didn’t fully own the character though, and after his Naughty Dog developed PlayStation trilogy of platforming romps (and the well loved spin off Crash Team Racing), Crash fell on hard enough times to make Sonic and Mega Man laugh. Naughty Dog moved on to the Jak & Daxter series on PS2 and Activision (who never met a franchise they wouldn’t drill into the ground) shoehorned the erstwhile ‘Coot into half assed and poorly received follow up after follow up on every system in the PS2/GameCube/Xbox era, eventually dwindling the IP into such obscurity that Sony couldn’t even beg Activision to let him appear in the equally dire and uninspired PS3 Smash Bros. rip off PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale.
Time has a way of healing such corporate wounds though, and money and nostalgia don’t hurt either. But those first few PS1 Crash games really were great, so however mercenary this product’s existence may be, it’s nice to have them back in Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Rebuilt from the ground up by journeyman developer Vicarious Visions (Sony and Naughty Dog’s OG source code somehow mysteriously went “missing”) N. Sane Trilogy packs in Crash Bandicoot, Crash 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash 3: Warped all prettied up to current audio/visual standards and wrapped in one neat little 40.00 PS4 package.
Crash’s adventures pretty much followed the Sonic mold, where the first feels pretty bare bones at this point, the second is damn near a masterpiece, and the third is still great while going just a tad off the rails. All of these games are still worth playing today though, and look and sound great under Vicarious Visions’ dedicated thumb. Something you may not remember is how hard these games were though. Again, think Donkey Kong Country (even, hell, especially the newer Wii and WiiU installments) where the 2D application of 3D models sometimes makes collision detection a cruel and profanity inducing guessing game.
Seriously, I spent about an hour on the Crash 1 level “Road to Nowhere”. “I beat Bloodborne, goddamn it!” I thought to myself. But sadly Crash Bandicoot holds opposition within that would make Rom the Vacuous Spider shamefully crawl back into his nightmarish Lovecraftian hellhole. Still, the challenge is fair, despite the somewhat slide-y feeling of the collision detection, and overcoming these herculean feats of gaming prowess is supremely satisfying for those willing to accept the challenge.
And that’s really the lesson to take home from these early 32 bit era transmissions from the past. Though these games starred colorful cartoon characters designed to hopefully, eventually sell everything from cereal to underoos, the gameplay held within was, yes, the Dark Souls of its time, and Crash Bandicoot carried the proud tradition of the aforementioned Donkey Kong, Sonic and Mega Man. Just because you aren’t traversing an intimidating medieval nightmare, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t “prepare to die”. Over. And over. And over again. Vicarious Visions is to be commended not only for revitalizing Crash’s highly animated and eminently likable personality but also the scathing provocation in the later levels of his adventures. A future for this exact type of cheerful on the outside, brutal on the inside character action platforming would be an excellent sight to behold. Thankfully the widespread positive reception that Vicarious Visions’ Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy has been receiving makes said future and definite possibility.